- Understand the Importance of Leadership
- Create Unanimous Focus on a Common Goal
- Clearly Define Roles in Subgroups
- Tap into Your Shared Resources
- Use Frequent and Effective Communication
- Offer Enthusiastic, Consistent, and United Effort
- Employ Periodic and Temporary Suppression of the Ego
Off the top of your head, you can probably think of at least a few ways that teamwork in your workplace has fallen short. The team may have missed a deadline or failed to meet a set objective. Regardless of what happened, when these incidents happen it is a usually a sign that teamwork and collaboration are not functioning properly. Even when a team’s efforts lead to seemingly good results, there are often plenty of missed opportunities because of issues such as:
- Not every voice on the team was heard.
- Communication roadblocks prevented good ideas from coming to fruition.
- Subgroups went in a direction that didn’t support the team’s objective.
- The team fizzled because there wasn’t a consistent and united effort.
If any of these issues sound familiar, it might be time to take steps to improve teamwork. Effective teamwork doesn’t happen overnight. It takes intentional effort and a thorough understanding of what teamwork actually is.
Below are seven cornerstones to improve teamwork in your organization, along with links to resources that will help you learn more.
1. Understand the Importance of Leadership
Every team needs a leader to encourage accountability, model empowerment, facilitate streamlined decision-making, and maintain momentum. However, the appropriate team leader isn’t always the person you first expect. Team leaders are typically individuals who know the most about the project—which means they might not have extensive experience with leading. They might not even be the person with the most ‘senior’ rank in the room. That’s why building in leadership skills exercises into your teamwork training in the workplace is so important.
The role of a team leader extends beyond conducting everyday meetings and capturing action items. The person in a leadership role must recognize their importance, model the expected behaviors, and understand how to harness individual strengths to achieve the outlined objectives.
2. Create Unanimous Focus on a Common Goal
When teams get distracted and stray away from the defined objectives, the project will take longer, or worse, never be fully achieved. Even when teams are working on a simple project, team members still need to see it as their own project. But for that project to truly be the best it can be, each person on the team must have a unanimous focus on a common goal.
It’s not uncommon for the individuals in a team to be pulled in multiple directions. They have daily tasks that must be completed, long-term projects to move along, and departmental objectives to bear in mind. Clearly articulating and repeating the team’s common goal can help the group maintain focus, especially between meetings.
3. Clearly Define Roles in Subgroups
When a team is faced with a large goal, it’s best practice to create smaller teams, or subgroups, within the project to address more specific tasks that support the overall goal. The goal of a subgroup is also more tightly focused than the overall team goal. This means less input from higher-ranking members who are most enthusiastic about the ‘big picture’. Instead, subgroup members with specialized knowledge will steer the subgroup towards its goal.
Subgroups should operate as mini-teams, using all seven of these cornerstones in their own work. Each subgroup needs its own leader, a unanimous focus on a common goal, and so on. They must also be subordinate to the larger team, always supporting the larger goal.
4. Tap into Your Shared Resources
Many people only consider hard resources—money, equipment, technology, and so on—when thinking about the resources that are shared among a team. However, soft resources can be just as important when cataloging your inventory of shared resources. While they might not seem like elements that must be shared for team success, but think about what would happen if just one person was passionate about the team project, or if only one person ever tried to overcome the inevitable project hurdles that sprung up. Just as when hard resources aren’t spread around equitably, it’s unlikely that project would ever be completed.
In a work environment where budgets are closely followed and individual productivity is valued, it can be culturally challenging to effectively share resources, both hard and soft. Organizations that are committed to improving teamwork must make it clear that team members have access to the resources they need in order to accomplish their goals.
5. Use Frequent and Effective Communication
Every individual on a team must always be able to say, “I know what I need to know,” and, “I understand everything.” If these two statements are not true at any given time, there is potential for the team to break down. The keys to communication in a team are for it to be both frequent and effective. And remember that effective communication requires all team members to know on a high level what’s going on within the team, but also to truly comprehend what’s going on.
Effective communication in a team requires both the right skills and the right tools. Ongoing training can help build the necessary skills to improve teamwork, such as active listening, giving feedback, and creating an environment in which people are comfortable speaking up. The right tools will depend on the team, but could include a document management system, an internal messaging platform, or a system for sharing and storing meeting notes.
6. Offer Enthusiastic, Consistent, and United Effort
The whole point of creating a team is to accomplish a specific goal. This requires effort on everyone’s part, but unless that effort meets certain criteria, you’ll soon find yourself spinning wheels. Putting in consistent, united, enthusiastic effort should be a given for every employee—but, unfortunately, that’s not always the case. That’s why team leaders must be up front about the level of personal commitment and discipline that will be expected of each member.
In addition to articulating the need for this type of effort, team leaders must also model the desired behavior. If team members see that their leader isn’t accountable for his or her commitments or makes excuses for substandard work, they will eventually conclude that this is acceptable behavior and reflect their leader’s level of effort.
7. Employ Periodic and Temporary Suppression of the Ego
Essentially, the principle of teamwork related to ego is about ensuring that individual agendas don’t take over the team’s goals, inhibit other team members’ contribution, or development and create a cycle of diminishing team effectiveness. No team will succeed if it is composed of members with a “me first” attitude. Successful teamwork depends on every individual feeling that their contribution matters.
Keeping egos in check without quashing them requires a delicate balance. Everybody on the team must intentionally manage their ego and shift the focus from individual agendas to the team’s objectives to effectively achieve the desired outcome.
Next Steps to Improving Teamwork in the Workplace
While the teams in your organization might have mastered some elements of this list, it is important to understand that in order to improve teamwork in the workplace it cannot be done alone. So, if you are committed to creating a workplace where teamwork thrives, start by performing an assessment of to determine which areas could improve. You will inevitably find a few gaps. When you do, provide competency development to bring all seven cornerstones into balance and see how the organizations in your team transform.